Cirque du Subway
In the hectic lives of New Yorkers, a calm subway ride at the end of the day can be a rare opportunity for some quiet contemplation. But these much needed moments of peace have come to be interrupted more and more frequently by a loud and ultimately rhetorical question: “What time is it? Showtime! What time is it? Showtime!” Before anyone knows what’s happening a stereo is switched on and placed on the floor of the car. Then a group of teenagers begins a series of dances and flips with varying degrees of ability and awareness of their fellow passengers’ heads. That’s right, the subways of New York City are being terrorized by roving bands of aggressively acrobatic dancers. Because of the danger inherent in these performances, it has become essential for these youngsters to point out at the beginning of each show, “We’re not the kids who kick people!” Setting aside for a moment the frightening assertion that there are groups of subway dancers who actually intend to kick people, this statement is still only comforting insofar as one is willing to trust the self-evaluation of a teenager who is confident enough to do backflips on a crowded train. After all, life is a cruel, tenured educator and it does not take much experience to learn that each of us is only ever a single stranger-adjacent flying spin kick away from the lives of everyone involved being changed forever.
Listening to Music without Headphones
Subway riders who play music on electronic devices without headphones occupy an interesting place on the spectrum of antisocial commuter behavior. On one hand, there are definitely more troubling activities one could indulge in publicly, like angrily masturbating or nervously assembling a crossbow. And yet, when a man stands in the middle of a crowded train and begins blaring George Rafferty’s Baker Street for his own benefit, it seems apparent that the individual in question is enough of a villain that his fellow passengers should proceed with caution. It stands to reason that a man who is comfortable with 150 strangers hating his guts during their morning commute might also feel okay biting and punching anyone who chooses to shoot him a dirty look. In these situations, it is best to affect the typical blank, middle-distance stare of a New Yorker who is trying to avoid agitating a weirdo. It’s also important to keep in mind that such encounters are not without their benefits. Everyday life is filled with so much moral ambiguity that it’s not often we get to experience the intense dopamine rush that comes from being 100% in the right. When you’re being forced to listen to a stranger’s music in a confined public space, that means you are finally in a position to enjoy the incredible sense of catharsis that comes from being the star of your own small Passion Play, in which your saintly ear flesh is tormented by the sonic javelins of a George Rafferty fan.
Putting On Make-Up
You would think that it’s impossible to sit next to people on a train and put on eye makeup without constantly bumping your fellow passengers with your elbows and driving them insane with countless micro-invasions of their personal space and that’s because it is.
Because technology has advanced to the point where people are now able to photograph strangers with maximum surreptitiousness, the shameful phenomenon of manspreading has been well documented on the internet. For those of you who have somehow managed to remain blessedly unaware of it, manspreading is a strange posture that a surprising number of men choose to adopt when sitting in public places. From the waist up it would appear that the manspreader is sitting normally, but from the belt down he is holding his knees about three to four feet apart with such callous insistence that it’s as if he’s convinced that, were his knees ever to touch, the Earth would reverse its poles. However, since public shaming on the internet has become its own form of repellent behavior, for every picture of a scowling man sitting with his legs so proactively splayed that it looks like he’s attempting to pick up distant radio transmissions with his bathing suit area, there are dozens of internet commenters falling all over themselves to point out that #notallmen sit like this. However, one only has to ride the subway on a regular basis to see firsthand that while it might not be #allmen it is #about87percentofmen, making those few of us who choose not to sit like we’re struggling to avoid the dangerous gamma radiation emanating from our own testicles the exception that proves the rule. And so public transit is sadly ruined by the presence of these men who are for some reason incapable of imagining the needs of anyone or anything existing outside the impressive wingspan of their own pelvises.
Being a human child
Look, no one wants to be the person to point this out, but the simple fact of the matter is that every single human child is a ruthless sociopath who makes the guy playing music without headphones look like Immanuel Kant. Understandably, sharing a subway car with these creatures is therefore rather unpleasant. They scream at special high frequencies that were taught to them by the devil, repeat random phrases incessantly, make loud observations about the physical appearance of strangers, and accost their parents with the sort of demands that ended up getting Caligula killed. But perhaps the most galling aspect of human children is that all their failings remind us inevitably of the failings that we as adults are still just barely able to keep hidden. The unselfconsciousness of children is painful to behold because we would all still like to have the right to cry and scream in public. We would love to fill up the subway car with our own music and dance. Do our makeup, spread our knees like kings. It’s natural to feel frustrated when someone else indulges in what is clearly meant to be held back, but the real lesson that cities are trying to teach us with these displays is much more rewarding. Namely, we’re all guilty of our own varieties of selfishness. We’re all in each other’s way. And being around other people is a sacrifice that requires a great deal of effort despite the fact that it only ever manages to be better than one thing: the alternative.
Illustrations by Anna Pipes.